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Ukraine: A new battle in the old war of the “New Normal”

Michael Lesher

In one sense, I don’t have much to say about the newest chapter in the eight-year-old American war against the people of Ukraine – nothing that you can’t learn from an array of sources as politically diverse as George Galloway and Peter HitchensTariq Ali and John Mearsheimer.

After all, the facts really aren’t complicated. Russia’s recent invasion, far from being “unprovoked” (as shamelessly claimed in mainstream media), follows eight years of the US-backed Ukrainian regime’s deadly shelling of ethnic Russians near the border of Russia itself, in fighting that has killed more than 13,000 civilians in territory Vladimir Putin’s administration pledged to protect long ago.

And that carnage had a fairly obvious cause, too: it was precipitated by the US-supported coup that toppled Ukraine’s elected government in 2014, ostensibly because of human rights abuses but more fundamentally because that government had refused to convert the former Soviet republic into a vassal state of NATO.

The machinations resulting in what is now called the “Maidan coup” destroyed Ukraine’s neutrality between Russia and the West, unleashing in its stead a violent and bigotednationalist movement for which the inhabitants of the Don River basin, mostly ethnic Russians, have been paying with their lives ever since.

That much should be clear to all unbiased readers – like the fact that NATO’s relentless march toward the Russian border (in direct violation of U.S. officials’ promise to Russian leadership as far back as 1990) is the real story of “aggression” behind the manufactured outrage over the Russian “attack” on Ukraine.

But I want to emphasize a different point: that the war hysteria seething in the mainstream press isn’t just about demonizing Vladimir Putin or about dragging the West into another Cold War.

I think we need to focus on its less obvious purpose.

In a very real sense, this propaganda campaign is an extension of the lockdowns imposed on the populations of the Western “democracies” (I add the quotation marks mournfully but advisedly) in early 2020 – and of the attacks on the freedoms of their citizens for which COVID-19 is no longer as sturdy a pretext as it seemed to be two years ago. For most of us, that is really its primary significance.

In other words, the agenda underlying the new Cold War – and mind you, it’s already a pretty hot “cold war” when Atlantic Magazine, formerly a storehouse of liberal antiwar pieties, is chiding the US for not being sufficiently “bloody and brutal” in Ukraine – is not aimed at Russia (despite the US-led economic warfare that mainly targets blameless Russian citizens). It’s not even aimed at Ukraine (notwithstanding obvious US efforts to exacerbate the conflict by flooding the country with weapons).

The real target is us. And whatever news we see from Ukraine in the mainstream press – now, tomorrow, a month from now, whenever – that’s one point we mustn’t forget.

Remember the rapid erosion of free speech throughout the West as the COVID coup started to intensify? Well, that was just a foretaste of the censorship we can expect to see on social media as our opinion-makers shift to a Cold War footing. Remember the marginalization of news sources whose information about SARS-CoV-2 didn’t square with the Official Message?

The senseless banning of RT in many “free” countries since Russia’s invasion suggests how that trend will proceed. Remember the way accurate public comment about Anthony Fauci or Bill Gates became an act of sedition as of 2020?

Today, arbitrary government crackdowns (no warning, no trial, no proof of illegal acts) are already getting worse; war hysteria will further aggravate them.

As for the economy, Reuters is reporting “wild swings in the prices of oil, metals and other raw materials” – surely a harbinger of worse things to come.

In fact, rising consumer prices, shortages, fiscal contraction, increased unemployment – all products of lockdowns – are already showing signs of spiraling out of control as the super-rich fatten off war profiteering and the rest of us are lectured about the “sacrifices” expected of us in the fight against the Russian Beelzebub.

If anyone denies that these things represent the actual goals of the warmongering over Ukraine, I have one question for him: can you please suggest a more persuasive explanation for what otherwise resembles a case of collective insanity among the war promoters?

Consider (just for instance) the folks at Forward – the ethnic periodical of choice for a broadly-defined liberal Jewish-American intelligentsia. Let me begin with a fact I know from personal experience: it’s a rare American Jew of Eastern European descent who isn’t well aware of Ukraine’s history of unusually violent anti-Semitism. As recently as 2013, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum published a historical essay describing the anti-Jewish Ukrainian riots that erupted as German troops invaded the Soviet Union in 1941:

The pogroms broke out with extreme violence. Perpetrators used household or agricultural tools such as bats, axes, sickles, and sticks with razor blades to kill at random any Jew they encountered…. [In some places] women, elderly people, and even children were attacked. The violence took place…even before the arrival of the German troops… The acts of violence and murder were associated with the looting of the Jews’ property, the burning of synagogues, and the widespread abuse of Jewish women.

In fact, “[b]efore the advent of Hitler,” continues another historical account, “the greatest mass murder of Jews occurred in the Ukraine, in the course of the Civil War [between 1918 and 1920].”

And virtually every Jew I know remembers that the Nazi massacre of some 30,000 Jews at Babi Yar (also called Babyn Yar) would scarcely have been possible without the support of local Ukrainians. Even the government of newly-independent Ukraine admitted as much in 1991.

But you’d never know any of this from Forward’s war propaganda.

Its top editor, Jodi Rudoren – who, as Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times, consistently minimized the crimes of Israel’s occupation of Palestine – can hardly find words harsh enough for Russia’s behavior in Ukraine: after launching an “unprovoked invasion,” she fumed recently, Vladimir Putin has “shut down all independent journalism” and even “threaten[ed] to deploy the ultimate weapon in what could only lead to an apocalyptic World War III.”

On the other hand, Rudoren’s heart melted over “Ukrainian civilians in sweatpants and wool hats” who “take up arms [and] make homemade bombs out of old beer bottles.”

Had they been Palestinians resisting yet another Israeli invasion, these militants would have been “terrorists” brandishing “Molotov cocktails.”

Why is Rudoren celebrating the members of anti-Semitic militias like Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion for doing the same thing? Has she gone nuts? Or mightn’t there be another reason for the turnaround?

And it’s not just Rudoren: everybody at Forward is suddenly lovesick for Ukraine.

“A handsome and superb communicator…who has entered the hearts of American Jews…the Jewish relative you have never met who throws his arms around you in the airport,” the magazine’s Rob Eshman wrote schoolgirlishly about Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s authoritarian actor-president, in early March.

The truth (as Alexander Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal reported for GrayZone) is that Zelensky has not only “downplayed his [Jewish] heritage in the past” but has built an “increasingly close relationship” with “the neo-Nazi forces invested with key military and political posts by the Ukrainian state.”

Shouldn’t such facts matter to Jewish public intellectuals? Or are their lips sealed by the dictates of the powers that be?

In the winds of war fever, other Jewish institutions have put about just as nimbly as Forward. Normally, any hint of a comparison between some contemporary evil and the crimes of Nazi Germany is the surest way to get yourself denounced by every Jewish opinion-setter from the New York Jewish Week to B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League.

And yet, no sooner had Russian troops opened fire on Ukrainian targets than Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback publicly equated Putin’s actions with the way “Hitler began his occupation of Czechoslovakia” in 1938.

Did the Anti-Defamation League – which condemned as “deeply offensive” Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s passing reference to Anne Frank in a critique of vaccine passports two months ago – erupt with outrage at this much starker heresy?

On the contrary: the ADL’s latest fulminations include an attack on the “anti-Semitic” Palestinian novelist Susan Abulhawa, who – in a crowning irony – seems to have offended Jewish leadership by objecting to mass-media comparisons of Russia’s invasion with a “Nazi-style blitzkrieg.”

Even the infamous Bogdan Chmielnicki, who in 1648 led a Ukrainian revolt that resulted in the murders of tens of thousands of Jews, is suddenly being sanitized in Jewish circles – presumably because of his popularity among Ukrainian nationalists.

Former Israeli official Natan Sharansky, who grew up in Crimea, actually waxed nostalgic in a recent interview about a huge monument his home town erected to Chmielnicki during his boyhood.

Will wonders never cease?

Four years ago, according to news reports, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine publicly “described that country’s nationalist heroes as ‘historically a horror for the Jews.’” But both Sharansky and his (Jewish) interviewer managed to describe the old pogromist without once mentioning his slaughter of Jews. Orwell himself might have been flustered.

I’m focusing on Jewish sources here because, given Ukraine’s history of anti-Semitism and its recent elevation of neo-Nazis to political prominence, public Jewish support is of obvious importance to Western war propaganda built on the dyad “Ukraine good, Russia bad.”

And – let me stress it again – it is simply impossible to believe that the authors of these tributes to good old Ukraine can credit their own arguments. They are not imbeciles; they know the same facts about Ukraine that I know. Their sudden about-face on everything related to Ukraine’s history cannot be explained by mere political sympathy, even assuming they’ve been genuinely won over by the claims of war propaganda, which – for reasons I’ve already suggested – would make them a lot dumber than I think they are.

No, there’s got to be another reason. And for anyone paying attention, the most obvious reason is also the most plausible.

After all, these pundits know their jobs: they are showmen, sleight-of-hand artists whose well-remunerated task for years now has been to distract hoi polloi while their pockets are picked and their rights are shredded. It’s a game the propagandists honed to perfection as they touted one fiction after another about the “killer virus” while ignoring the greatest civil rights crisis in modern history. Now the gloss on the COVID story is starting to fade. What better way to carry on the work of distraction than with war hysteria?

I’m certainly not the first person to think of war propaganda in such terms.

“War,” James Madison cautioned more than two centuries ago, is “the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.”

Madison went so far as to argue that “no nation could reserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” because an administration at war has access to powers the public will not cede to it in peacetime. Two years ago, our ruling class began whittling away our freedoms under the pretext of “health regulation.” War propaganda is the perfect tonic to revive, and even to intensify, that democracy-busting campaign.

In fact, if you peruse the factoids carefully, you can sometimes spot the real motives peeking out through the seams.

One of CNN’s tame “experts,” for instance, recently told the network that “endemicity [of SARS-CoV-2] is going to be the case. Eradication is not possible.”

Now, as any scientist who dared to say “eradication is not possible” two years ago was courting professional suicide (think Mike Yeadon or Knut Wittkowski), this was a remarkable admission indeed.

But it came together with some ghoulish cheerleading for peddling new, scantily-tested “vaccines” to very young children – including “kids ages 4 and under” – and a suggestion that, to enforce the latter goal, schools should “require that kids get vaccinated against Covid-19 before they return to class in the fall,” although CNN did acknowledge that “the politics of it might be tricky.”

In other words: resistance to COVID dogma is starting to solidify; many people aren’t quite willing to let the government inject mystery drugs into their babies’ veins.

That’s bad news for Big Pharma bootlickers and anti-democracy media flacks. What’s a propagandist to do? Well, how about demonizing dissenters by labeling them “apologists” for the new Russian menace?

There are other ominous signs.

As I write this, facial recognition software is being tested in Ukraine. The justification rumored in the press – that identifying faces with data gleaned from Russian social media is meant to weed out “Russian operatives” trying to sneak through Ukrainian “checkpoints” – is plainly implausible.

But I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that Clearview AI (the maker of this spyware) will be claiming its product has been “battlefield tested” when it brings it to market for the real purpose of monitoring dissidents in the near future.

(Note, too, that the test began just weeks after officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted they’ve been suppressing data about the efficacy of COVID-19 “vaccines” – “because [the figures] might be misinterpreted as the vaccines being ineffective.”

Got that?

The propagandists know they are losing control of the COVID narrative; the facts are against them; ergo, governments must prepare for harsher crackdowns on dissenters, and it’s a good time to try out a powerful new surveillance tool.)

But perhaps the most telling indication that the hysteria over Ukraine is meant to extend the COVID coup is the propagandists’ excessive insistence that there is no connection – absolutely, positively, none – between the two.

To wit: on March 12, the Daily Beast’s Mark Hay – a venomous COVID apologist who has dismissed accurate summaries of vaccine-related “adverse events” as “batshit” – reached a new low by condemning “COVID-19 conspiracy circles” for “applaud[ing] Russia’s naked aggression.”

It was bad enough, Hay wrote, that these subversive types kept “railing against masks and mandates”; now, in their zeal to defy “all conventional science,” they were turning “anti-Western and pro-authoritarian” at the very moment their country needed them to battle the Russians.

Now, you might say this rally-round-the-flag posturing only proved that Hay had noticed the obvious – that some critics of arbitrary confinement and human medical experimentation recognized a connection between war fever and assaults on personal freedom. (As did James Madison, the principal author of the US constitution – just in case anyone was keeping score.)

But there was nothing ho-hum about Hay’s imprecations against the “conspiracy theorists” who dared to suggest that different pretexts (COVID-19 hysteria, war propaganda) might serve as rationalizations for a continuing assault on civil rights.

Anyone even hinting at that drew down Hay’s blackest anathemas: such critics were “try[ing] to graft their increasingly wild and all-encompassing conspiracies onto every major event” – that is, the Ukraine conflict – “functionally spitting in the faces of the victims of crises” as they continued to wage “serious harassment campaigns against…people trying to solve genuine health crises.”

Good heavens – they had even attacked “the entire fucking city of Ottawa”!

And the traitors were narcissists, too. Did they really think their exposure of the facts behind the media’s “deadly virus” nonsense might have some relevance to a new assault on the Bill of Rights (in the name of fighting the Russian hordes)? If so, they must suffer from delusions of grandeur: Hay quoted a sneering “antivax movement watcher” who explained that the critics’ real motivation was the belief that “everything has to be about them.”

Summing up his loathing for these egomaniacal bastards, Hay warned that their “intense selfishness” was about to unleash “a new brand of unrelenting hell for the rest of the world.”

Now, there’s a lot of illogic to untangle in all that invective. Recognizing the falsity of the American government’s account of the war in Ukraine isn’t the same thing as endorsing every action of Vladimir Putin. Nor is it irrational to notice that different cover stories can serve for the same sorts of political abuses.

But why did Hay insist that critics of vaccine mandates must be “selfish,” too – that they must be (to quote yet another “expert”) “so fixated on their anti-vaccine politics that they cannot recognize the suffering of millions of people in Ukraine”?

That slander is just silly. It falls into the obvious fallacy of conflating the argument with its author: the man who says that X is happening because of Y is not claiming that he himself is the cause of X by virtue of having made the argument; and he is certainly not claiming that X is trivial, even if he believes the nexus between X and Y to be of great importance.

In plain terms, Hay’s accusation is a calumny: it stigmatizes principled dissent as “harassment” (or worse) motivated by pure ego, it cynically tries to deflect fact-based argument with ad hominem smears, and it libels the defenders of the Nuremberg Code as heartless, self-obsessed militarists without even attempting to address their concerns. And I cannot believe that Hay himself didn’t know all this when he published his hit piece.

Why did he stoop to such transparent mendacity?

Because he and his masters are terrified that people may start to question the web of propaganda being spun around them, to notice connections the ruling class would like them to overlook, to challenge the assumptions hurled at them by con men like Hay himself.

And – on this point – I agree with him. Confronted with a pack of lies about Russia and Ukraine while the lies about COVID-19 are still fresh in their memories, many people may indeed start to wonder whether the peddlers of all that fakery have really had the same goals in mind all along. Once members of the public start to make those connections, they may become difficult to control. And that’s why propagandists like Hay are so feverishly determined to stop them.

So the senseless violence the U.S. and its allies have provoked in Ukraine is not really a new war at all. From the perspective of the Western citizenry – for the purposes of people like me and most of my likely readers – it’s only another front in the war for the New Normal, a war that has been waged against us for years and which shows no sign of stopping.

Recognizing that is not to dismiss the genuine suffering caused by the violence, nor does it require us to overlook other reasons for seeking to end the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

But it does warn us against limiting our attention to suffering in a distant place while our own freedoms are under attack. It reminds us that specific pretexts for dismantling democratic government come and go, but that the appetite of the ruling class for increased power is permanent and insatiable.

It cautions us against complacency, reminding us that no one will protect our rights if we ourselves don’t – especially when our press is full of lies and our public intellectuals endorse mass surveillance and war hysteria.

Yes, we are at war.

But it’s a war fought on our own soil and against oppressors much closer to home than a Russian president. Our enemies are human automata who want to strip life of the freedom without which life is meaningless. Our principal weapons are the only ones that work against such enemies: truth, compassion, dignity, determination and love.

The need to fight is urgent.

The time to fight is now.

Michael Lesher is an author, poet and lawyer whose legal work is mostly dedicated to issues connected with domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. His latest nonfiction book is Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., 2014); his first collection of poetry, Surfaces, was published by The High Window in 2019. A memoir of his discovery of Orthodox Judaism as an adult – Turning Back: The Personal Journey of a “Born-Again” Jew – was published in September 2020 by Lincoln Square Books.